Growing up in Southern California in the late fifties and early sixties meant being exposed to surfing, dirt bikes, off-road racing and drag racing. There were great films from people like Bruce Brown and surf films like Endless Summer being shown in small theaters all through the Southland.
Other films, such as On Any Sunday about motorcycles and Dust to Glory about off-road racing in Baja have contributed greatly to the passions that developed around these activities. For years, I have watched NFL highlight films and NASCAR films about moonshiners and their contributions to stock car racing’s early years.
For some time now, drag racers and their fans have asked why there was not a historical video set about the history of drag racing. At the same time, many in the performance aftermarket were asking much the same question. In fact, the need has been there for decades.
As the legends and the pioneers of drag racing’s modern era and the aftermarket industry continue to pass away, fewer and fewer remain who have a tie to the early days.
A few months ago, Steve Cole at WRITEWords called me from his office in Cleveland about a project he was involved in that addressed this very issue. Since then I have become involved with this group and I want everyone with a stake in this industry to know about it. We need to do all we can to enhance the program. Steve provided me with most of what follows:
Quarter Mile Entertainment and PROJECT 1320-What is it?
The Quarter Mile Entertainment Foundation is the production company, which has been formed by Traci Hrudka (daughter of Mr. Gasket co-founder Tom Hrudka), Don Garlits, Harry Hibler, Steve Cole and Wayne Wolfe-all of whom have spent their careers in the sport and/or the performance industry.
The intent is to sell the series to one or more cable television networks for public airing. Once that is accomplished, the series will be marketed as a boxed DVD set.
What makes PROJECT 1320 special?
PROJECT 1320 will use first-person narratives with the surviving legends and pioneers of the sport to help transport the viewer back in time when drag racing and the performance aftermarket were getting started, and where hard work, ingenuity and passion drove the participants to greater and greater achievements.
Wherever possible, old home movie footage (as well as professional movies) and old black-and-white and color still photos will be used to provide further enhancement of the narratives.
Transitional narratives will be handled by the two most recognized voices in the sport: Dave McClelland and Jon Lundberg.
Will the series be only about one sanctioning body or will it be universal?
It will be universal, and will tell the stories, as much as possible, of why several sanctioning bodies emerged.
The scope of the documentaries will encompass not only a broad overview of the sport, but episodes will examine what took place in each decade (post WW II – 1959, 1960-’69, 1970-’79, 1980-’89) and how classes evolved-why some died, others emerged, the advent of the “booked-in” shows at tracks across the U.S. and Canada, etc.
It will also examine the roles of the journalists, photographers and moviemakers of the time to record and promote the sport to millions of enthusiasts. And there will be a look at the development of safety rules and programs, and other related issues.
Why include the performance aftermarket?
The development and growth of the performance parts aftermarket was directly linked to drag racing. Racers, in their attempt to get more performance from the engine, drive train, suspension, etc., turned to making their own parts-and sold the successful parts to their fellow competitors. From that grew a $40 billion industry.
This film, by its very nature, will be as much about the companies that grew with the sport as the competitors. Many times, they are the same people.
Why end at 1989? And why not include the pre-WW II racing on the California dry lakes?
The starting point of the post-WW II 1940s was chosen because it was when the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines returned home, many hearing about the dry lakes racing from their contemporaries from California, and were eager to plant the seeds across the country. With the formation of the NHRA, the sport rapidly grew in size, popularity and participation across the U.S. and Canada.
The decision to end with 1989 was largely based upon the feeling of the Board of Directors and the Advisory Board that that year marked the point at which major sponsor programs and the entry of electronics began to control the direction the sport would take. Drag racing, at the touring Pro level, now was a business as much as a sport of passion.
At some future point, there is thought to regress into the 1930s to examine the dry lakes racing, which basically split after WW II into drag racing and the land speed events, (Bonneville and elsewhere). Additionally, there is interest in looking at the 1990s and the 21st century.
Where is PROJECT 1320 now?
Pre-production plans are done, marketing materials are done and the finishing touches are being made on a website.
The most immediate need is for funding. The Quarter Mile Entertainment Foundation is approaching the performance industry and other companies who have a strong link to drag racing. To this point, all that has been accomplished has been done with sweat equity, but now the need is for industry support.
Can ordinary fans and racers get involved?
Yes. Quarter Mile Entertainment Foundation has established “Friends of PROJECT 1320” for grassroots support of the effort. The one-time membership charge of $36.95 (plus shipping fees) will give a member a T-shirt, cap, hatpin and a pair of decals-all with the unique PROJECT 1320 blown Hemi logo.
Additionally, members gain access to the “Friends” member area on the website, which will have a social networking function. Additionally, there will be a “behind the scenes” look at the filming process in an area titled “On the Road with PROJECT 1320,” which will have the crew members filming with small handheld cameras, recording the highlights and low-lights (goofs, bloopers, blunders) of the filming sessions.
What is the urgency?
Simply put-¦ time. The inception of PROJECT 1320 occurred in mid-March 2009. The Board of Directors and the Advisory Board identified 150 key individuals that were deemed “must-interview” by early May. Since that point, eight of those have died, and at least another three are in nursing homes with dementia/Alzheimer’s.
As these individuals continue to age, we face the greater risk of their loss to physical or mental infirmities or death.
How can you get involved?
Drag racing fans can become a “Friend of PROJECT 1320” when they sign up at the “Friends” website at the www.project1320.com website. When filming begins this year, the “Friends” members will be able to see the behind-the-scenes activities of the interviews.
Members also will get a discounted price on the five-disc boxed DVD set of the documentary. For the industry, the Foundation is offering a wide range of options to support the effort. For both individuals and companies, their support is a tax-deductible contribution, since the Foundation is a pending Internal Revenue Service 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
The question the industry and the sport must answer for themselves is, what is the ultimate cost of losing these oral histories of the pioneers and legends, against the return on investment?
Author’s note: Steve Cole of WRITEWords contributed to this article.